The One Thing I Ask of My Son’s School Team

Our son’s inclusive education has had many ups and downs, twists and turns. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

One thing that has remained constant is our son’s willingness to work hard, absorb information, withhold what he knows until he is ready to share it, and most importantly, our unwavering belief in him. In fact, I’ve written about belief/believing many times before. For us, belief has been the biggest reason things go well at school and a lack of belief has been the biggest reason when things are not going well.

This morning our family happened to catch the end of the movie, “Finding Dory” on television. Like Dory’s parents, we refuse to stop believing in our son, even when the progress isn’t immediately visible.

Dory, a fish, was taught to follow the shells home when she was young. She gets lost and in the two years that she is gone her parents never stopped believing that she would find her way back home despite her short-term memory challenges.

In the most beautiful scene of the movie, the family is reunited and Dory’s parents tell her that they never stopped believing in her. The camera pans out to a beautiful star image of hundreds of shells all leading to Dory’s home. Against all odds, these parents never stopped believing in their child. They never stopped working hard to help their child find her way.

About six weeks ago, I started a reading program with my son. Every day, we would sit together and I would read him the books, modeling with “magic” pointer (pencil). The program instructions stated it would take about 4 sessions of modeling and then I could expect that my son would want to try reading on his own. Each session, I asked him if he would like a turn. He declined probably a total of 40 times, but I knew he was learning and we kept going. Sure enough, one day he took the pointer and confidently read me the whole “I See Letters Book,” and two more after that.

At around this time last year, our son had a major breakthrough in kindergarten. He stood in front of his class of 25 peers and read his sight words in a loud “reading voice.” And earlier this week, at his desk, in his first-grade classroom, he read two books.

One of the greatest struggles as a parent advocate is getting the rest of the world to believe in my child as much as I do. My husband and I know our child best, but often our beliefs about our son are questioned by “experts” that have degrees and letters before and after their names. The doubts of the “experts” can be intimidating even for the most confident parent advocates.

But perhaps, the most powerful thing I have learned in the last two years is to keep believing. When team members, therapist or administrators questions me for believing so much in my child, I believe more. I work harder with him, and for him, to prove them wrong.

Parenting a child with a delay is all about believing beyond a doubt, that your child can and will. Parents have to keep doing what we know is best and believing that our child is benefiting. We have to have patience. A LOT of patience. We have to keep going, regardless of the doubts from the outside world.

Based on the work of Anne Donnellan, “The Criterion of the Least Dangerous Assumption,” presuming competence is the least dangerous assumption that can be made of students receiving special education supports. 1

Competence is the assumption that I wish all educators and administrators would make. If everybody assumed that all students were competent to learn what is being taught in general education classrooms, (with the appropriate supports) there would not be a need for separate, self-contained classrooms.

We have been fortunate that my son has a teacher that believes in him. She doesn’t need to see immediate results to know he benefits from her teachings and being included in the classroom with his peers. You can read more about how truly amazing she is, here. Unfortunately, she is extremely rare.

In reality, we live in a fast-paced, technology-driven society where we expect instant gratification. Adults expect to see results immediately and when we don’t, we often make excuses and give up. Perhaps, one of the best examples is the millions of New Year’s Resolutions that are broken each year. Achieving any goal takes time, patience and belief. It is a process; it doesn’t happen overnight.

When it comes to my son’s education, it can be hard to convince those working with him that even if he isn’t showing all that he knows, he is in fact learning. The saying, “patience is a virtue” definitely applies to my son’s education and development. I know not everybody will believe in my son the same way I do, but if they presume competence, they will have more patience and keep moving forward. And then, there will be the days that my son shows what he has learned. I have seen my son surprise and amaze people his whole life.

He taught me early to keep believing. I still vividly remember my tiny little baby, at one-month-old old, take all the negative energy he had for “tummy time” and propel himself from his tummy to his back. It was at that moment that I knew my son was a hard worker, that needed high-expectations. He will accomplish everything, in his own time just like Dory did finding her way back home.

  1. Donnellan, A. M. (1984). The Criterion of the Least Dangerous Assumption. Behavioral Disorders9(2), 141–150. https://doi.org/10.1177/019874298400900201